Applying Milk Paint to a Large Piece

A finisher is using milk paint under clear lacquer on a large piece of furniture, and asks for advice on technique. November 8, 2007

I'm using old fashioned milk paint on an 8' x 8' wall unit. 2 coats, brushed on, starting with bare wood, then a coat of MLC Ultrastar in dull sheen. I'm generally happy with the look, but it's tough to achieve consistency across such a large piece. Specifically, there are unattractive dark smudges that are amplified when I apply the clear coat. I know spraying the milk paint would improve this, but then you don't get that nice handpainted look. Also, if you need to recoat a single door or panel, it seems difficult to match it to the rest of the piece. Any advice on getting the most out of this stuff?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
I think that part of the appeal of milk paint is the unevenness, so unless you are going to spray it... I haven't tried it, but couldn't you roll it on?

From contributor J:
Try spraying it on and then go back over it with a dry brush for the brush marks.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the replies. Has anyone tried spraying it? I'd be hesitant to spray it through any of my expensive guns (definitely not my AAA). I worry about the lime in the paint being corrosive. Maybe use an el cheapo gun... It's very sensitive to how much sanding you do before topcoating. I've tried Scotchbrite pads as recommended by the paint manufacturer, and also sanding with 220 grit. What do you do for a topcoat? Anyone using a sealer?

From contributor A:
When I want the hand painted look, I simply apply a first coat of paint with a stiff brush, a junker, preferably one that has seen its days. I am not particularly concerned with full coverage as I am with creating brush strokes, so being meticulous is not important, and should not involve a lot of time. This is followed with a sprayed application to cover. A throw away (gun) is perfect for this.

From contributor J:
I would use an old gun to spray. It will work fine out of a gravity gun or pressure pot, but you need to strain it well and mix it well. May need to thin just a little more than if you brushed it. We seal it with tung oil. Waterlox works well. It will darken it a lot; may need to adjust color some.

From contributor P:
I think milk paint should look less than perfect. If you want it to look like enamel, then use enamel. I've never sprayed it myself, but I know some do with good results. I've never understood why anyone would use some sort of plastic topcoat on milk paint. Seems to defeat the purpose to me. On furniture, I use oil, either BLO or Watco. I absolutely love the stuff. Since turning my shop over to primarily kitchen and bath cabinets, I haven't had the opportunity to use it much, but for furniture that will be used a lot, such as a chair or a kid's desk, it's one of my favorites.

From the original questioner:
I don't want it to look like enamel. I like the variations in color, but I'm looking for ways to achieve a level of consistency across a large piece, and avoid some undesirable effects I'm seeing (dark smudges). The size (and the budget) would rule out a hand-applied oil or wax finish. I don't want a plastic-looking finish, either. That's why I'm using a low sheen for the topcoat. Lots of good suggestions. Hope to try some of them soon.

From contributor P:
If smudges are a problem, you might try a coat of dewaxed shellac first.